Clean eating is a bit of a buzz word these days; it seems to be everywhere in the media, you hear people talking about it, you see lots of different definitions and views. But what is actually clean eating? I asked Ann Wenstrom Murphy, holistic health coach and founder of New Approach Wellness, to clarify it for us.
Welcome Ann. Tell us please: what is clean eating?
To me, first of all, clean eating means real food.
It’s not coming from a package or a container, it hasn’t been processed, it hasn’t been made from some food manufacturer, it’s not loaded with additives, preservatives, colourings, and ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
Clean eating is real, meaning the food looks the way that it looked like when it came from nature. Vegetables and produce haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, they’re natural and organic.
We want to eat foods that are going to benefit us. If you’re eating from something that was not healthy to begin with, that’s not going to give you optimal health.
If you’re eating meat, you want to look for meat that has been raised in a healthful way, because you’re going to take in whatever way that animal was raised, whatever care it received. Here in the states we have factory farming, where the animals are confined, and sometimes they have no room to even move, they’re not eating their natural foods, cows are not out there eating grass, they’re being fed grain.
The problem with that is, if you eat something you’re not meant to eat, your health goes down. When somebody eats that, they’re taking in the effects of that. So you want something, chicken, turkey, whatever; that’s pastured: roaming in the grass, eating what it’s meant to eat, and if it has supplementation in the winter, it’s minimal, organic, and it doesn’t have genetically modified corn and soy. These are all important things.
I’ve heard people say clean eating is vegetarian or vegan. Let’s clarify this please.
Clean eating does not mean vegetarian or vegan. There is no one way to eat. And if someone says you have to eat vegan, or you have to eat vegetarian, it’s dogma. This is a choice. For example, I was eating raw foods for a while, I was vegetarian, I was vegan; and here’s the reality: it depends on what your body needs. I do best with plant-based foods, but there are times when I need meat. There are times when I really want dairy. And again, it’s always organic and preferably it’s raw, if it’s dairy.
Clean eating also has to do with the individual. How does your body react to the food? I have a client for example, and I know a few other people as well, who can’t eat spinach. It’s just not good for them – even though spinach is supposed to be super healthy. One woman said to me, “everybody tells me I need to eat spinach, but every time I eat spinach I get gassy, and bloated, and the next day I just feel really tired.” That’s your body telling you that spinach doesn’t work for you.
That’s a part of clean eating, learning what works for you. Otherwise you’re just doing damage to the body. You’re depleting your energy, you’re depleting your nutrient stores, and it’s not beneficial. If you learn to listen to your body, you’ll learn what your body likes and what it doesn’t like. Our bodies tell us everything – but we don’t always listen.
So that’s what clean eating is: real food that works for your body.
Why is clean eating more important now than ever before?
When you look at the body burden of chemicals that we’re exposed to these days, it’s unprecedented. It’s coming from the air, things in your house, furniture, plastic, skin care products; it’s everywhere, and it’s cumulative. Most of these chemicals are fat-soluble, meaning they’re stored in the fat cells of your body – and they accumulate.
It’s a matter of making the best choices that we can; and we don’t have control over everything. There’s not much we can do about air pollution – but we have control over what we eat.
Food affects us in many ways. Think about it yourself: if you’re eating foods that don’t make you feel good, or you eat packaged food and then you’re not feeling great, the connection is obvious. But it goes beyond that. My daughter for example has OCD, and when she’s eating right the difference is amazing. And she can see it now. I have a friend who works with kids with autism, and she has seen how, when you start to heal the gut, you start giving them nutritious food, it changes the severity. People say “oh, it’s really not important” but it really is.
What tips could you give to those who want to eat clean, but can’t always buy organic?
Try to eat clean as often as you can. At the very least the meat should be clean. And if you can’t afford to buy quality meat, buy it less often. Eat more vegetarian meals, and when you do eat meat, go for a better quality.
When it comes to meat, the best is pastured, because then you know it’s going to be as healthy as can be. Free range is second best; find the ones that are not fed genetically modified produce, or the heavily sprayed stuff. And good is at least without added hormones; that’s still going to be better than the regular conventional meat.
Talk to your farmers. You can find many farmers who are not certified organic, but they still follow the practices. The same with the growers; there’s a lot of growers who can’t afford the certification, but they’re organic in practice.
Another thing I always recommend is cooking your meals from scratch. I know it takes time – but that comes down to priorities. We do so many things we think we have to do – but do we really? A lot of the busyness is just busyness.
You can do batch cooking, on a Saturday or Sunday have a few hours when you cook 3-4 different things. That’s the base; and when you get home on the weekdays, what are you adding to it. And you can make healthy meals. And maybe on Wednesday have an hour to replenish it to get you through the week. While you’re making this meal, you can have a few other things going on as well; and that’s your prep for the following days. It makes it a lot more manageable. It comes down to priorities.
People look at the cost of eating clean and organic – but what are you going to pay? You’re going to have to pay somewhere. Would you rather pay for better food now, or doctor’s bills later down the line?
Thank you Ann for your insights.